Updated 12 July 2019
8 December 2020 – after being over a year cancer free and gaining experience working with others dominating their own diagnosis, I’m in the process of updating this again.
I strongly believe that it’s better to get all my nutrients from the raw, whole food that I eat but, let’s face it, it’s really hard to find fresh reiki mushrooms or organic ginseng leaves at a reasonable price these days.
I did an enormous amount of research on supplements and plant medicine shown to have anti-cancer benefits. At my peak I was probably taking almost 50 pills a day not to mention the many powders, tinctures and teas I took.
Below is an overview of the supplements that were a regular part of my anti-cancer protocol as well as a few new ones that I learned about only after becoming cancer free.
I continue to take a few of these but my needs have changed from actively healing cancer to healing the adverse effects of my treatment (brain radiation necrosis, small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, and hypothyroid).
Just a reminder to consult your medical team before taking any supplement. I’m not a doctor and am just sharing my personal experience. After receiving multiple requests, I’ve added a link to the actual brands I take. In some cases this is an affiliate link but it won’t cost you anything and doesn’t affect what I link to.
What do you find has been most helpful to your healing? Is there anything else I’ve missed and should look into?
A Note on Interactions
Plant medicine is medicine and supplements can interact with your physician-prescribed medication as powerfully as drugs.
For example, have you been told not to have grapefruit juice with your targeted therapy? That’s because it will interact dangerously.
A researcher named Klingenberg discovered Cytochrome P450 (CYP) in the 50s. CYP450 is a hemeprotein that plays a key role in the metabolism of drugs and other xenobiotics. The reactions needed to process drugs and other agents are usually catalyzed by the CYP450 system. Different combinations of enzymes are needed to metabolize different agents and exhausting one or more enzymes in the pathway can cause things like intolerances and sensitivities as well as major problems. Most targeted therapies are processed in the liver using a CYP pathway. Most targeted therapies I know of use a pathway called CYP3A4.
Grapefruit juice is a known CYP3A4 inhibitor meaning that, if ingested, it could lead to more of the potently toxic medicine in your blood.
If you have a good pharmacist, they may have also warned you against St. John’s Wort. There are loads of other CYP3A4 inducers and inhibitors out there, though, which they won’t warn you against. In many cases probably because no one has paid to test the pathways used by every known plant or pesticide out there. Some I’ve come across in my own research, however, are chamomile tea, echinacea and licorice. These can also have a mild inhibitory effect (compared to grapefruits strong inhibitory effect), along with who knows what else. [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10969720/]
It may be worth a bit of research to know what pathway your specific treatment uses. The reason this mattered to me is that, when my liver function became especially deranged during treatment, I would avoid known CYP3A4 inhibitors to reduce the burden on my liver.
My Cancer-Healing Supplement Strategy
Most of my supplements – and indeed, most plants in general, have multiple benefits. I’ve grouped them here by what I think of as the primary benefit but keep in mind that most could fit under multiple categories. Jump ahead using the shortcuts:
- Immune Support
- Detox Organ Support
- Mitochondia Support
- Nutritional Support
Immune Supporting Supplements to Support Cancer Healing
Yes, it’s lots of pills, but all I can tell you is I haven’t had a sniffle or a cold sore since I was diagnosed with cancer. That includes the time I took 14 flights through 7 states and three countries during 4 weeks of winter. Just sayin’…
My fave immune supporting supplements
I discovered this immune booster early after reading Bill Henderson’s Cancer-Free: Your Guide to Gentle, Non-Toxic Healing Bill was a fan and I am now, too. This is the only non-physician-prescribed supplement that I take even while fasting and I continue to take it daily.
Beta glucans are sugars that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants, such as oats and barley. While they’re most commonly used to treat heart disease and high cholesterol, this 2019 review in Molecules cites over 80 clinical trials supporting its use as an immunostimulant drug.
How much to take: Per the 2019 study, “In human studies, the tested (and suggested) daily dose remains in the range of 100–500 mg for stimulation of the immune system.” I personally take around 200-400 depending on how I’m feeling and how much I’m spending.
What to look for: Look for a brand that you trust with minimal fillers. Some supplement products claim that beta glucans are only bioavailable after a process that “micronizes” the particles. There’s no evidence to support this claim so it’s up to you whether you look for something micronized.
This is what’s in my nightstand right now but I’ve taken a few other brands. The only one I really didn’t like had added elderflower which made me nauseous when taken on an empty stomach.
Vitamin D deficiency is all to prevalent in those with cancer. The National Cancer Institute notes that “vitamin D has been found to have several activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, including promoting cellular differentiation, decreasing cancer cell growth, stimulating cell death (apoptosis), and reducing tumor blood vessel formation.” [source]
How much to take: Ideally, have a blood test (25-hydroxyvitamin D) to assess your baseline. If you’re in the US, you can test this at home and get the results online using a service like EverlyWell. An optimal range is 50-80 ng/dL although many naturopaths prefer higher. If you are low, you may need 5000 IU day for a few months. If you’re already in range, you may only need 2000 IU. Taking too much can lead to Vitamin D toxicity and a buildup of calcium in the blood, in rare cases. Many other supplements add Vitamin D so keep that in mind when calculating your values.
What to look for: This is a fat-based vitamin so I’m extremely picky. It’s important to me that the supplement uses coconut oil as a base and includes an expiration date. Avoid seed oils or anything that could be rancid. Store the capsules in the refrigerator with your fish oil. This is the brand I’m taking now and am quite happy with.
I originally learned of this supplement from Kelly Turner’s Radical Remission but didn’t start taking it until months later after continually stumbling across research papers showing it’s ability to control experimental tumor growth, progression, and metastasis.
A 2006 article in Nutrition in Cancer notes, “In addition to reducing cell proliferation, IP(6) also induces differentiation of malignant cells. Enhanced immunity and antioxidant properties also contribute to tumor cell destruction. Preliminary studies in humans show that IP(6) and inositol, the precursor molecule of IP(6), appear to enhance the anticancer effect of conventional chemotherapy, control cancer metastases, and improve quality of life.” [source]
This 2019 case study from the Mayo Clinic documents someone who achieved complete remission of stage 4 melanoma and remains cancer free after 3 years taking only IP-6/Inositol and no other treatment.
In addition to it’s documented ability to enhance the immune system, it’s been shown to prevent calcification and kidney stone formation (important for someone following a keto diet) and lower elevated serum cholesterol (important for me with my treatment-induced hypercholesterolemia). All good. Oh! And the same research summary shows it can “enhance the anticancer effect of conventional chemotherapy, control cancer metastases, and improve quality of life.” There are 5 different books about it on Amazon right now.
How much to take: This one is hard. The most common dose in the currently available clinical data is 2-4g per day. This Phase 1 study of IP-6/Inositol for lung cancer showed “the maximum tolerated dose was found to be 18 g/d.”
For me, dosage in the grams per day is cost prohibitive so I take what I can, usually around 800mg daily.
What to look for: Look for a brand you trust without too many fillers. I’ve been taking this one which combines my Maitake and Cat’s Claw.
I’ve taken echinacea for immune health since I was a kid. Just keep in mind that it utilizes the same CYP3A4 pathway as discussed above. Research has been done to support its use against colds and its generally been recognized as an immunostimulant since the late eighteenth century.
More recently, in vitro studies have shown that echinacea extracts may suppress cancer cell growth and even trigger cancer cell death [source 1, source 2], presumably by modulating T-cell activity [source 3].
How much to take: To boost immunity, current research suggests 300-500mg of dried echinacea three times a day or 2.5ml of liquid tincture 3 times daily. Personally, this wasn’t sustainable for me and I don’t take echinacea regularly.
What to look for: Look for a brand you trust without too many fillers. Supplements aren’t regulated in the US and a 2003 study showed that 10% of echinacea products didn’t even contain any echinacea. This organic brand is very similar to what I took. Note that echinacea is often combined with goldenseal, another immune-booster.
Immune supporters with caveats
Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant and known immune supporter. While I did take it early after my diagnosis because of how antioxidants may prevent cancer, I later learned that oxidative action (like radiation, chemo, and intravenous vitamin C) kills cancer cells. Too many antioxidants may block that oxidative action. These days I support a “press-pulse” rhythm where antioxidants can be part of the press to support the immune system but oxidants are part of the pulse, or full-court press, against cancer.
How much to take: Personally, my plant-rich diet is chock-full of Vitamin C and I don’t supplement for nutritional purposes. However, there is no unsafe limit for oral vitamin C. It can be taken “to bowel tolerance.” That is, if you take too much, you’ll just poop it all out. Sometimes urgently or uncomfortably. Most people can take the recommended maximum of 1000mg without any discomfort. These days I use a “Vitamin C Flush” to deal with constipation and need around 90grams (not a typo, 90,000mg) to achieve a flush. Don’t do this yourself without supervision and study of the technique but I just want to say, there’s no chance of overdose.
Also, note that oral Vitamin C has a different effect than intravenous Vitamin C and they’re not interchangeable. When taken orally in normal amounts, Vitamin C is the powerful antioxidant we’re familiar with. When taken in large doses intravenously, it has oxidative effects that are responsible for the reported cancer benefits. I could write more about IVC but will save it for another article.
What to look for: A buffered version may reduce GI discomfort. During the short time I took this, I tried to optimize bioavailability with a liposomal formula like this.
Zinc is an absolutely essential trace nutrient that is critical to the immune system. Science estimates that about 1/3 of the world population has a zinc deficiency [source]. Red meat, chicken, oysters, beans, and grains are among the best dietary sources of zinc – and foods that we don’t get much of on a plant-based keto diet. Zinc deficiency is complicated by the fact that the body doesn’t store it and requires regular intake to maintain adequate levels.
Too little zinc is bad for your immune system — but so is too much [source]. It is a heavy metal, after all, and you don’t want too much in your body. Zinc toxicity caused by over-supplementation is real and can be fatal. It’s a delicate balance to make sure you have enough for healthy immune function but never too much.
It’s important to check with your doctor before taking a zinc supplement as it can interact with several medications including estrogen therapy and hormone therapy.
How much to take: The recommended daily allowance for adults 19 years or older is 8mg per day for women and 11mg per day for men. The upper limit is 40mg per day. Be sure to account for zinc added to other supplements in your daily dosage. Also, take it at least two hours apart from supplements containing copper, iron or manganese.
What to look for: While I was reluctant to supplement zinc at first for the reasons above, I started taking it after being diagnosed with hypothyroid courtesy of my cancer treatment. I currently take this ionic zinc.
Anti-inflammatory Supplements to Support Cancer Healing
Boswellia, also known as frankincense, reduces inflammation and has been used for centuries in Asian and African folk medicine. This Ayurvedic herb also has anti-cancer properties. It’s been shown to slow down the replication of cancer cells and caused cell death[source]. Its pain-relieving properties come in handy since I avoid all NSAIDs and acetaminophen.
How much to take: Most guidelines recommend taking 300–500mgs two to three times a day. Products concentrations can differ greatly so check out the dosage on the bottle and follow your doctor or naturopath’s recommendations.
What to take: As always, go with a brand you trust without too many fillers. I’m currently taking this one.
I’ve always taken it. Why not keep at it? Honestly, I feel that keeping my omega3:6 ratio balanced is key to my health and the purported anti-inflammatory benefits are a plus.
Fish oil offers EPA and DHA, two types of the three most commonly studies types of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PFA), which are only found in animal sources. The third, ALA, is found in plant sources and can technically be converted into EPA and DHA but with unknown efficiency. If your diet allows it, look for real fish oil containing EPA and DHA. If you’re a strict vegan, omega-3 supplements made from algae and flaxseed oil are probably better than nothing. It take fish oil in addition to my regular serving of flaxseed oil.
How much: I take 2000mg a day when not fasting.
What to look for: Oil from wild caught fish is best. I personally try to avoid added flavoring. This is what I’m taking now. Like all oils, you should store this in the fridge.
Detox Organ Supporting Supplements to Support Cancer Healing
Chemo and targeted therapies are known to damage the liver. Your liver and other detox organs are working overtime and deserve all the support can get.
Silymarin (Milk Thistle Extract)
I take so many handfuls of pills each day but I actually feel like this one does something for me.
What to look for: Go for a brand you trust without too many fillers. This has been my favorite for awhile. I really like that it adds dandelion root and artichoke and that the only fillers are vegetable cellulose and magnesium stearate. Plus it’s a brand I’ve used in multiple countries with stricter regulations that the US.
Comes along with my silymarin supplement but I’ll take all the liver support I can get.
Same as the dandelion root.
Did you know that one of the most common chemotherapies for breast cancer, taxol (later renamed paclitaxel), comes from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree? Just because it grows in nature doesn’t mean it’s not powerful stuff.
Turmeric is the ultimate cancer-fighting herb. I try to eat it as much as I can but man, I’m so tired of the taste. It’s optimal to obtain this from the actual root which I’ve been able to find in markets in the US, UK, Europe and, less easily, Asia. Add it to curries, smoothies, golden milk tea, or just pop a nub raw.
I incorporate whole shiitake and maitake mushrooms into my diet once a week but the supplement makes sure I get a daily dose of these purported immune-boosting, cancer-fighting fungi of Eastern medicine. Read more about the best medicinal mushrooms for each type of cancer here.
Turkey Tail Extract
Another Eastern medicine immune booster. Polysaccharide K (PSK), a patented extract of the Turkey Tail mushroom, is the most commonly prescribed cancer treatment in Japan. It’s only just starting clinical trials in the US.
Many reputable studies indicate ginseng can prevent cancer and improve quality of life for those who have it; also, one study showed it associated with reduced mortality for men (though not women)[links]
It has impressive anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and blood sugar lowering properties. Unfortunately, it can cause liver and kidney damage with repeated use so I was always sure to take regular breaks.
Research has shown it can kill cancer cells in vitro and in mouse models though there have been no controlled, clinical trials in humans yet. [links] Note that it uses the CYP3A4 pathway and was something I stopped taking while my liver function was deranged.
In in vitro and animal studies, resveratrol has been shown to cancer cells from replicating and spreading as well changing gene expression and modulating hormones to inhibit cancer cell growth [source].
Some studies have shown it can inhibit cancer cell growth but it can also cause liver toxicity so I would only take it if my blood tests showed a healthy liver.
Metabolic and Mitochondria Support Supplements for Cancer Healing
I subscribe to the metabolic theory of cancer and, even if you don’t, you can’t deny that the mitochondria of most cancer cells, including mine, are broken. I’d like to keep the healthy ones healthy and maybe heal the broken ones. The that end, I occasionally take supplements to support Ox Phos. At the same time, a metabolic approach to cancer includes optimizing blood glucose-ketone index so I’m eager for supplements that help with lowering blood sugar or raising ketones.
Some mitochondrial helpers:
Oxaloacetic Acid (OAA)
Oxaloacetic acid (OAA) appeals to me because it specifically targets the deranged metabolism of a cancer cell and causes apoptosis (self-destruct) by limiting glutamate and inhibiting glycolysis, according to a 2018 study. In 2012, the FDA has designated it an “Orphan Drug” for the treatment of gliomas including glioblastoma (source) and is under patent.
Amazingly, it’s available over the counter as a supplement under the brand name BeneGene and this is what I took. HOWEVER… it’s expensive at around $100 for 60 pills of 100mg each.
How much to take: The dose used in the mouse model research (there’s not human data) is 2 grams per kg equating to 120 grams for a 60 kg human, or 1200 pills per day. That’s $2,000 a day at the current Amazon price.
Animal research often doesn’t apply to humans – either the benefits or dosage. There’s just no argument telling me that a few hundred mgs a day will really be helpful and the megadoses suggested by the mouse model is very cost prohibitive for having no human trials behind it….
Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)
Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is an essential nutrient known to support the immune system and metabolic flexibility [source]. There is some in vitro evidence that it can induce cancer cell apoptosis [source].
How much to take: According to a 2014 article in Journal of Cancer, “PQQ treatment at low to medium dosage exhibited potent anti-tumor activity…” Unfortunately, I haven’t found what that dosage is. I just followed the instructions on the bottle. You should follow the recommendation of your medical team.
A few others worth considering which I took at one point or another:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
- Gymnema sylvestre extract – Lowers blood sugar, modulates insulin, and reduces inflammation, among other benefits.
Other Supplements for Cancer Healing
- Multi-vitamin – Only taken periodically to make sure I’m filling in all the gaps.
- Extra B-12 – I’ve had B-12 deficiency in the past so, given that B-12 is even harder to come by on my mostly-vegan diet, it makes sense. For the record, I’ve been tested and am not currently deficient.
- Extra Magnesium in Glycinate Form -Magnesium is an electrolyte which my body needs on my low carb diet with purported anti-anxiety benefits.
- Barley grass
Supplements I Do Not Take
Tried and put aside – temporarily in some cases
I used to take these but have set them aside for one reason or another.
- Cranberry Capsules – I’m finishing my last bottle and don’t think I’ll get another. I get so much good nutrition from my diet and this just isn’t worth the carb count or cost.
- Essiac Tonic – A formula supposedly handed down through Ojibwa Indians containing burdock root, sheep sorrel and slippery elm. I just didn’t feel a lot of benefit for the cost, personally.
- Green Tea Extract – I had a bottle of this from long before my cancer diagnosis. I’d been taking the supplements off and on but have since learned that it can cause liver toxicity. These are now packed in a drawer and I’m not taking it. I do, however, continue to drink 2 cups of green tea a day.
- Iron – I’ve never eaten mammals, have had off-and-on anemia, and am a woman so iron supplements have always been a part of life. However, iron is a heavy metal and the ultimate oxidizer. It’s necessary to live but I’ve come across more and more studies of its potentially carcinogenic properties. Iron is off the list until I have a real deficiency and then I’ll only take chelated iron.
- NSAID Analgesics – No more aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen for me. Some of my reading indicates that they actually cause increased inflammation over time. Boswellia can manage low level pain.
Based on my research, I believe these would be harmful to my health or not worth the cost and therefore I am not taking them.
- Pau D’Arco Tea – Just not enough compelling evidence to make it worth the money.
- Laetrile/ Amygdalin – Ah, the old B17 controversy. If you haven’t heard about it before it’s worth reading up the history just for the story – so much intrigue and conspiracy theorizing. I mean, it’s cyanide so I totally believe it could kill cancer cells but I also believe it could kill healthy cells. There’s lots of controversial science-y explanations for why the cyanide is only activated in cancer cells but nothing legitimate enough for me.
In the Backlog to Research
People have made many suggestions on supplements I should take. I haven’t had a chance to fully research and make a decision on the following.
- Red Raspberry Capsules
- Shark Cartilage
I’m sure this list will be refined and maybe someday I’ll flesh out the citations and it can serve as a guide for others.